Reacting To Terrorist Attacks

There have been numerous terrorist attacks in Paris today. I, of course, condemn these acts, feel sorry for the victims and their friends and families, and hope that any individuals and organizations that are responsible and/or plotting further attacks are disrupted and prevented from doing any more damage.

That said, I thought I’d repost a comment I just made on facebook:

I agree that it’s a really bad thing[…]. But, I wish people would try to maintain perspective. Lots more people die in traffic accidents than from terrorists. But, the world doesn’t stop and pray for everybody on the road every day.

I understand that we’re wired to care a lot more when there’s an intentional harm than an accidental one; but we can also use our analytical minds, rather than instinctive emotions, and remember how, relatively, small a problem it is, and how unlikely it is to affect the average person. I’m afraid that these things often lead to stupid over-reactions and bad policies that make us much worse off. And, international attention encourages more people to commit these acts. So, even if you do have an over sized concern about terrorism, you should *still* hope for a restrained reaction.

I don’t expect human behavior to change immediately, but maybe we can nudge it a bit towards progress.

By The People

I just finished reading Charles Murray’s By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission.

I enjoyed it a lot.

Even if you don’t accept Murray’s proposal (that massive civil-disobediance in the form of defense funds to challenge and compensate for violations of egregious regulations is the best way to undo the worst aspects of the runaway regulatory state), you’ll still learn a lot about the legal and political history that led us here, and the scope of the challenges.

I’m not sure I agree entirely with Murray, either, but he makes a good case and provides a lot of great information and explanations along the way.

People who are interested in the topic should definitely check out this work.

Hooray Sunset

Tonight some (a small percentage) of the USA Patriot Act was allowed to expire, including the infamous Section 215 which was used (apparently illegally) by the NSA for legal authority for the bulk collection of all telephone metadata of Americans.

This was an outrage, and I’m at least happy about the symbolism of it expiring, and grateful to Rand Paul for his efforts to make that happen.

I had been under the impression that the alternative USA Freedom Act was not a good compromise act (very little actual reform, and further entrenching some of the problematic aspects of the Patriot Act) and I was happy that it didn’t pass unamended by the Senate tonight either (it had already passed the House).

But, Julian Sanchez, who is pretty much the expert on all of this, thinks that it probably would have been better if it had passed than what we’re likely to get otherwise.

I’m hoping that there will be enough popular support for the privacy of innocent citizens, and enough people watching and caring about that and able to resist the cries that respecting the Fourth Amendment makes us unsafe, that what will happen next will be better than the original USA Freedom Act, and that we’ll get actual reform.

It’s hard to say, but I’ll let myself be happy about the current “victory” and hopeful that the momentum will lead to further encouraging results.

I’m With the Band

This week I started wearing a Microsoft Band.

I was on a three-person team at work that participated in a health challenge (each of us not gaining weight from before Thanksgiving through Super Bowl Sunday) and won a drawing for Bands for each member.

I had been wearing a fitbit Flex since last June (a Father’s Day present) and was surprised by how much seeing the data accumulate helped to motivate me to continue walking regularly and keeping up my daily step count. Another thing that I didn’t expect to find so useful was the Silent Alarms that the fitbit supported. It’s nice to be able to be awakened without interrupting my wife’s sleep. The Band has this too, but only one alarm, and no recurrence. On the other hand, I can set the Band’s alarm directly on it, but the fitbit required using the website.

Now, I’ve stopped wearing the fitbit and am wearing the Band.

One obvious advantage over the Flex is that the time is displayed (newer fitbits have this too), even when not actively using the Band; I missed wearing my watch and have never grown used to taking out my phone to see the time.

Other advantages are the heart rate monitor, workouts, guided workouts, sleep analysis, and the integration with the phone (seeing notifications, text messages, phone callers, calendar events, etc.). My phone integration is a bit kludgy since I’m using an Amazon Fire Phone which has an OS that is a fork of Android 4.2, required

side-loading Google Play in order to load the Microsoft Health app, and the Band expects at least Android 4.3 to use its services correctly (for example, I’m not seeing the social tiles or the weather in the right city…).

Getting the Band has motivated me to switch to a Windows Phone soon (I’m waiting for the Lumia 640 to be released) so that I can take full advantage of the Band (especially using Cortana), and later will upgrade from Windows Phone 8.1 to 10 without having to get yet another phone. I’m sure Microsoft hopes this will be a popular choice.

Again, I was surprised by how much my behavior is affected by tracking activity, especially when the trends are viewable in a nice display like on the Microsoft Health dashboard. If I hadn’t experienced it myself, I’d probably be scoffing at people purchasing smart watches to track these things.

I guess this the age of the Quantified Self. We’ll see where it goes from here.

Super Bowl XLIX

Well, the Super Bowl is on tomorrow and I’m looking forward to watching it.

I live in the greater Seattle area, so most people would expect me to root for the Seahawks.

Those people don’t know me very well.

I think most people root for teams for poor reasons. It’s usually because they follow the lead of those around them and support the home (or, nearest to home) team. Often, one’s team is chosen by an accident of early interest, and then confirmation bias reinforces support for that team and dislike for their rivals. I’m probably a Steelers fan for that kind of reason.

As for rooting for the home team… I think my dislike of crowds (mobs) uniting in their support for anything leads me to instinctively be inclined to root against the home town team. But, I’m also not a great fan of the Patriots (although I do have a lot of respect for their efforts and success), so I have no great reason to support them to beat the Seahawks.

And, living in Seattle, I’m sure that the people I see on Monday will be much happier if the Seahawks win than if the Patriots win, and I’d prefer to be around happy people than sad people (unless they’re happy for a very bad reason).

But, upon introspection, I think I’m hoping that the Patriots win. Part of it is the non-conformism, and part of it is that I think I have more respect for them than I do for the Seahawks (although this could easily be caused by accidents of what I happen to know about each team). What I’m really hoping for is a much better game than the one we had last year.

UPDATE (2/1/15): I got my wish. It was a great game.